In 1992, former President Ramos took a dive at a little-known spot in Masinloc, Zambales.
Overwhelmed by the beauty of the bay, the beach and its pristine waters, the thick beach and mangrove forest, and the diversity of the marine life, President Ramos declared that the area should be set aside for conservation.
Hence, it was declared a protected area through Presidential Proclamation 231 on August 18, 1993.
Today, the place is popularly known as the Masinloc and Oyon Bay Protected Landscape and Seascape (MOBPLS), one of the 97 protected areas covered by Republic Act 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area System Act of 2018.
Located in the western portion of Masinloc, the 7,558-hectare marine protected area (MPA), which is a combination of beautiful landscape and seascape, covers the municipalities of Masinloc and Palauig in Zambales.
It straddles 11 coastal barangays in Masinloc, while it covers three coastal barangays in the northwestern portion, or the side of Palauig.
The multiple-use zone of MOBPLS covers an approximate area of 5,195.3493 hectares, while the strict protection zone covers an approximate area of 2,362.7972 hectares.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), some of the notable species or resources found in the MOBPLS are the rare hybrid mangrove species bakawan bato (Rhizophora stylosa) and apiculata or bakawan lalaki (Rhizophora x lamarckii). They can all be found in Mangrove Island, or Yaha.
Meanwhile, the San Salvador Marine Sanctuary, a local marine protected area, is blessed with unique mesophotic coral species.
Also within the MOBPLS are several giant clams (Tridacna Gigas) at the so-called Taclobo Farm MPA.
Thriving in the MOBPLS reefs are the threatened Blue-spotted rabbitfish or Siganus corallines which was named as the Flagship Species of the MOBPLS.
Finally, the MOBPLS will not be complete without its own marine turtle nesting area.
Threats to MOBPLS
Like other MPA in the country, the MOBPLS is threatened by various activities, notably, the docking and anchoring of vessels that threaten the coral reefs and seagrass beds in and around the protected area.
It is also threatened by the presence of informal settlers in the coastal area while the corals are under siege by the dreaded crown of thorns.
The proliferation of fish cages, siltation in fish-cage areas as well as improper solid waste management pollute the waters.
Various programs and projects were implemented in partnership with various stakeholders to help conserve and protect the area. The DENR, through the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) and the Office of the MOBPLS Protected Area Management Office, headed by Protected Area Superintendent Ariel M. Mendoza, implemented the programs.
Mendoza is also the Community Environment and Natural Resource Office (Cenro) chief of Masinloc, Zambales.
The Biodiversity-Friendly Enterprise initiatives in the MOBPLS started in December 2018 with the Samahang Magbabalat ng San Salvador as the DENR’s development partner.
Among the projects is the sea cucumber-ranching project, which covers an area of 0.63 hectares for handling, harvesting, processing and marketing.
The Implementing Biodiversity Sustainable Ecotourism Project was also awarded to the group for catering, tour guiding and kayaking activities.
As the DENR’s development partner, the group received the total financial assistance of P1,260,000.
The MOBPLS is protected against various threats, Mendoza said in an interview via Zoom on September 22. Even the harvesting of mangroves for fuel and charcoal making, he said, no longer occurs.
“It is illegal because we prohibit cutting of mangroves in the area,” he said.
Don Guevarra, chief of the Regional Public Affairs Office of DENR Central Luzon, said the DENR Central Luzon Office intensified the information and communication activities for Oyon Bay this year, especially in areas with no information and communication units, in order to enhance the awareness of various stakeholders, and encourage the communities to help protect natural wonders like the bay.
“We have an eight-year Regional Strategic Communication Plan. Part of the plan is our protected area, including the Masinloc-Oyon Bay,” he said.
“This year, we conducted environmental education lectures in targeted barangays within the MOBPLS,” he said.
“We wanted to talk to the barangay officials in the area to help protect the mangrove areas and our coral reefs. There’s a mangrove island there and we have beautiful beaches in Masinloc-Oyon Bay,” he said.
Guevarra said part of the plan to preserve the MOBPLS beauty is to promote proper solid waste management in coastal barangays, particularly against single-use plastic.
According to Mendoza, promoting the MOBPLS as an ecotourism destination in Zambales is one of the objectives of conserving and protecting Oyon Bay.
“We have several ecotourism areas that attract local tourists like the San Salvador MPA. We also have beaches where people can go swimming,” he said.
From the operation of over 300 fish cages being managed by at least nine fish cage operators “we are limiting the operation of fish cages because we don’t want Oyon Bay to end up like the Laguna de Bay. We limit the acceptance of new applicants and we only allow the operation of fish cages in the multiple-use zone,” he said.
According to Mendoza, to efficiently run the operation of fish cages, the DENR is getting the much-needed boost from the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which has a representative in the MOBPLS PAMB.
The official said lack of fund is a big problem in running the operation of the MOBPLS.
Mendoza said right now, the DENR Central Luzon and the Masinloc Cenro works with a very limited budget to run the operation of the MOBPLS.
“Hopefully, by next year with the help of [Deputy Speaker] Loren Legarda, we will finally receive regular funding for the MOBPLS,” he said.
He added that the designation of permanent personnel will boost the conservation and protection effort for what is currently the only MPA in Central Luzon.
Speaking mostly in Filipino, Mendoza said one of the important activities to be performed by would-be regular employees or personnel of MOBPLS is biodiversity assessment and monitoring to be able to come up with a more science-based conservation strategy for the entire MPA.
The official said he wants to see fishing communities near the MOBPLS to continue enjoying the benefit of a healthy marine area.
“There are many corals in Masinloc and we have the San Salvador MPA. With this alone, the marine ecosystem can be self-sustaining,” he said.
The San Salvador MPA, he said, can be described as a huge fish sanctuary where various seafood, such as fish, shellfish and other seafood thrive.
“Of course, with a healthy mangrove area, coral reefs and seagrasses, we can expect plenty of food for the coastal communities,” he said.
Image courtesy of Don Guevarra, DENR Central Luzon Public Affairs Office